COVID-19 forced us all to reimagine our businesses. From the moment we began making arrangements to close the physical offices in favor of having our staffs work from home, business as we knew it had changed. Some businesses were ahead of the curve and had sophisticated set-ups already in-place, providing their teams with quick transitions to work from home. On the other hand, many businesses, including a majority of small to mid-sized CPA practices had to procure laptops, set-up VPNs or remote access, and ensure staff had all the tools needed to carry out their daily responsibilities. This mad dash to avoid any business disruptions coincided with tax season, providing additional pressure and stress for accountants and CPAs.
Two weeks to flatten the curve turned into sixteen months and counting. Following the vaccine rollout many businesses have called their employees back to the office. Some have not. As we speak with various CEOs, managing partners, and firm owners, we continue to receive some very interesting feedback. One of the greatest challenges firms are currently facing, and the focus of this post, is finding qualified staff to fill job vacancies. While this certainly isn’t a new challenge, the reasons behind the lack of qualified applicants is different this time around. For one, a significant number of people found that working from home simplified their lives so to speak. No more commute meant more time back in their day. Some utilize this time to get outside and enjoy nature, while others took advantage of the added time to their days to try their hand at baking or simply cooking more often. Lastly, many found themselves using this newfound time to catch up on work, get organized, and ultimately be a more productive employee. Another reason why CPA practices are struggling to find qualified help is that the pandemic forced many to rethink their lives. The daily grind that so many people experience on a daily basis is old. Wake up, make the kids breakfast, pack their lunches, hurry them off to school…these are the mornings so many parents face. Yet, their day has yet to begin. Traffic. Internal meetings that should have been emails. Client meetings. Endless amounts of work and stress followed by the commute home, picking up kids, making dinner, and doing it all over again the next day. Doesn’t sound sustainable, does it? Some of these people felt a relief when they were forced to work from home. Their lives were simplified, resulting in a big spike in quality family time. Thus, a desire for change led people to starting their own small businesses. We hear stories of those who are now selling homemade cookies and banana bread, ETSY stores selling arts and crafts, as well as many other businesses that once seemed too risky to start. The goal was simple, start a business that one can operate out of their home, on their time, and still provide a certain level of income.
As a result, accounting and CPA practices need to pivot. Most firms still require a physical office to meet with clients, train and supervise junior staff, and build a culture that will foster growth and profitability. However, what some are quickly realizing is that they don’t necessarily need as much office space as they once did. If you want to attract and retain talent, you will likely be considering a flexible work from home policy and thus may not need the same amount of office space you once did, even with the same headcount. Not only can this approach help you attract talented employees, but with newly freed-up real estate, you can fill the space by acquiring another accounting firm, or merging with a compatible CPA practice.
The bottom line is there is a pool of talent out there, but employees are looking for a progressive employer who will provide flexibility when it comes to working from home full-time, or even a few days each week. The companies that get it, will thrive. Those that don’t will continue to struggle finding talented staff.